It all started in August of 2008 when I went to a cattle call for V89, the radio station. I had spent my first semester at FSU—summer 2008—bored to tears. I wanted nothing more than to just go home and quit college. I knew that wasn’t really an option, but it’s still what I wanted to do. Here is where I attribute everything to my mom, like any good momma’s boy. She told me to look into a radio station or TV or acting… something like that. As if it were fate, right as we talked about it I walked past a flyer calling for new volunteers for V89. I was skeptical at first, but I went to the “cattle call,” and I learned all about V89. Still skeptical, I applied to the news and production departments. I knew news was what I wanted to do more than any other department, but I was logical enough to cover bases in case I wasn’t admitted into news. I had type my own script to audition for the live spot news anchoring positions. I thought I’d go outside the “normal” news box, so I summarized a few stories from Al Jazeera; we needed to write five or six sentences about four types of stories: international, national, state and local.
The first time I went live on air, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I didn’t know why or what exactly it was that drew me to the microphone, but I knew it was for me. I’ve since learned what it is that drives me (it’s explained in detail here).
The next semester I started doing something I never expected: I started writing for publication. Throughout middle and high school I hated writing, and I was told (by teachers no less) that I was no good at it. It just so happened that Felicite Fallon, the news editor of the campus newspaper, the FSView & Florida Flambeau, was also in the V89 news department. She and I started talking, and I asked her if there were any positions for new writers; I didn’t know much about the paper, but I knew news. My first articles for the paper, when I look at them now, were crap. Part of that was because I needed to break out of the “you’re no good at writing” mentality I’d had drilled in my head, and another part was just my novice level of print writing. Even then, in January of 2009, I’d have never believed that I would fall in love with writing like I did. Now here I am, three and a half years later, rarely going a week without writing several thousand words. The FSView helped me grow in ways I never expected; I think it’s safe to say everything about the FSView was unexpected. I learned to be a leader outside of the ROTC mindset; I learned to manage a team of individuals. I learned how to plan out a newspaper—photos, graphics, articles and budgeting.
After a year of writing for the FSView, I learned FSU students could minor in journalism at Florida A&M University. I had never really been down to FAMU, but I knew that would be the best opportunity I would get during undergrad. I had no idea to know how right I was. My education at FAMU was instrumental in pushing me as a journalist. I’ll even take it a step further; my education there pushed me as a person. Being a Nole in “Rattler Country” was hard at first, but after a semester—just one semester—I started hybridizing my thoughts. I was no longer “just” a Seminole. I was a Rattler too. But, as I wrote in that article for the FAMUAN, which was I really? I couldn’t tell you because I was both. I treated both institutions as my “home” institution. After a semester, I got almost more involved at FAMU than I was at FSU. I learned about working for TV20.
I knew I loved radio, and I loved print too, but I wanted to try my hand at television. I started small—working as a camera operator. Then, one semester, another J-School student started her own show called “Reality Check.” I worked that whole semester as the regular audio board operator. I figured why not? I worked at the radio station, audio work came naturally to me. I loved it, and I loved my team. I never operated my own camera or shot my own story though… It was mainly working a studio camera during recording. That changed soon: summer 2011. I enrolled in TV News, taught by Kenneth Jones. I was issued a camera and some DV tapes, and I was assigned stories to cover. We were taught the “basics” of news television camera work. It was a whole new experience for me. The closest I’d ever gotten to this was shooting random videos on my point-and-shoot camera at family gatherings. It was a good thing I had my own camera issued because I was able to eat, sleep and breathe camera shots.
Oh, did I mention I was promoted to news section editor for the FSView in that same semester? No? Oh, well that summer I was the news editor, producing several TV News stories and working as an RA in the toughest residence hall on campus. Needless to say, I kept myself busy.
The next semester—fall of 2011—I coanchored the “News 20 at 5” newscast with three other J-School students; Ashley and I were the news anchors, Kristen was the sports anchor and Kari was weather. “News 20 at 5” is a live, daily newscast produced by FAMU students. It was part of a class: Advanced TV News. I auditioned late in the summer, near the end of my TV News class. I was one of four auditioning. I remember one of the others very well, LiZeatra Wilson. She was nervous. I remember telling her, “LiZeatra, you’ve got to be confident. They’re giving you a script,” I said, “just read it. You’ve got to read it like you believe it and know it. Even if it’s false confidence, on live television you’ve got to fake it ’til you make it.”
Fall 2011 anchors: (from left) Kristen Holloway, Ashley Garrett, Turner Cowles & Kari Knowles
I wouldn’t let it on then, but I was saying that to help calm my own nerves. I went up to that anchor desk, sat down and I took off. The audition was part scripted and part breaking news. A script was placed in front of us; the teleprompter was turned off. Next to that was an upside-down piece of paper they told us was breaking news. We couldn’t see it until they cued us because they wanted to know how we would react and phrase the news ourselves as if we were actually getting the information while live on air. I found out soon after that I got the spot! I was beyond excited, but I knew I needed to “play it cool…” at least a little bit anyway. I heard, through the grapevine of course, that I shouldn’t have gotten the spot. “Doesn’t he know that black folks need it more than he does?” they said. “And isn’t he an FSU student?” I didn’t let any of that get to me because I knew I could do it, and I knew I could do it well. I just had to show them I deserved to be where I was. The same thing that happened at the FSView happened here—if I look at my first package or first pieces of video, they were horrible. But that’s the point of education, right?
There’s no question anchoring for TV20 led me to my last media experience in Tallahassee—my internship with WTXL, the ABC affiliate. Working at WTXL was a rewarding experience. I learned more about what it takes to put on a newscast—including breaking news during the newscast than ever before; there’s something about working somewhere that has “real world” problems, is concerned about ratings and, basically, isn’t a student newscast. I worked hard at ABC27. One of the anchors, before she moved to work at Bay News 9 in Tampa, said I was the best intern she ever worked with. I produced several web exclusive stories—including video packages, and I even had two packages air. It started small—they gave me a small live shot to talk about what “is hot on the web” that day. I was live from the newsroom. There’s no question all of what I learned in the past two years at FAMU’s SJGC has been instrumental in getting me to where I am today.
If there is anything I could say to J-School students, I would say this: do NOT underestimate the power of networking. Don’t be afraid to go above and beyond. You know why I got the internship spot at WTXL? I went out and covered a story on a Saturday. I met the ABC reporter who was there—Greg Angel—and we exchanged business cards (business cards are not a bad investment either). He and I communicated regularly, and he put me in contact with the news director about the internship position. Staying with the networking part, I’m pretty sure I networked my way into Columbia’s Journalism School. In September 2011 I went to New Orleans for the Society of Professional Journalists convention. It was there that I met the Director for Admissions & Financial Aid for Columbia’s J-School. He and I exchanged info, and we met up in New York for lunch when I visited there for a conference in November.
I have worked in every traditional medium, starting with radio, moving to newspaper and, just before graduating from FSU, anchoring a live, weekday television newscast. At FSU, I was part of the editorial team that pushed our campus newspaper’s web presence on fsunews.com. The FSView & Florida Flambeau is one of the most widely circulated college newspapers, and we quickly set a goal of 100,000 page hits per month – ambitious, but with 40,000 students it did not seem unreasonable. Since graduation, the general manager has pegged me to return to work as the content supervisor, responsible for web content.
In November 2012, I was tasked with creating an interactive web graphic to allow New York City residents to better understand how city council redistricting would affect their daily lives. I pooled open source data from the New York City Open Data website, and I compiled several fusion tables into Google Maps to embed on our website (bit.ly/NYC_Redistricting).
In the words of someone who I consider a mentor, Dr. Maya Angelou, “you can only succeed at that which you are willing to sacrifice for.” Never be afraid of the story on a Saturday. Are you in college to go out and drink, or are you in college to enhance your future possibilities and opportunities? I thought so.
Go. Do. Be. As I was always told in high school, ‘improvise, adapt and overcome.’ Those three words will take you wherever it is you truly want to go—if you’re willing to work for it.